A lot of locals were disappointed two weeks ago when pay parking was introduced in the Telus Conference Centre underground, one of the last bastions of free parking in Whistler Village. No doubt that disappointment was compounded, and painfully, by the fact that rates also doubled to $2 an hour.
Is it too much to ask our local government to spread out the bad news a little instead of unloading it all at once? Jacking up my cost of living is not the same as peeling a bandaid from my hairy leg - sometimes it's better to move slowly.
While we've been warned for years to expect pay parking, you really have to wonder about the timing. Does it really make sense for the municipality to create a disincentive for people to shop in the village, at a time when other levels of government are taking on huge amounts of debt to stimulate consumer spending? Does it make any sense to double rates during a recession, when people are already struggling to make ends meet?
Why now, in a year when municipal property taxes have increased by eight per cent, when businesses are struggling to keep afloat, when locals are losing jobs, when our visitors are more cost-conscious than in the past, and when our tourism sector is working overtime to combat Whistler's reputation for being expensive?
Why do it in a summer when at least one of our still free-to-park day-lots will be out of commission for paving at any given time, creating more competition for the free spots that are still available?
And where, in this long gauntlet of sticks we're being asked to walk through, are all the carrots? Where are the free or discounted transit passes, the additional buses, the after-trip biking facilities, the secure bike racks, or any of the other perks that are supposed to go with pay parking to make it easier for people to swallow?
I'd be more willing to admit that cars and drivers are evil incarnate and that pay parking is next to cleanliness on the godliness scale if only there was some tangible benefit I could point to. Like a southbound bus stop on the highway at Spring Creek I've asked for again and again.
That's the way these things are supposed to work - you give something up to get something back. Carrots and sticks move the world.
But so far all I can see are the sticks. So many, many sticks.
Why, for example, is there a two-hour limit for pay parking that is in effect until 9 p.m.? That means you can't use a pay lot to go and see an early movie because your vehicle will be towed or ticketed by the time the closing credits are rolling.
And why aren't there a few free spots out there with 15 minute limits where people can run in and do quick errands, like send a letter or get a cup of coffee?
What impact will pay parking have on village businesses, or even the village atmosphere? Will you stop to give visitors directions if your time is running out? Will the village lose that small town atmosphere where people stop to chat with friends and neighbours because everybody is rushing around to beat the clock?
I would also be grateful if someone could tell me why there are no reasonable exceptions. Some towns have designated parking spaces for seniors or people with children, or carpool vehicles - so why not Whistler? Can we at least keep our handicap parking free, and allow people who are injured to get temporary free parking signs on their car so they can still get around?
I get it. Cars are bad and public transportation is good. Pay parking will get people out of their cars and onto the bus. In theory, anyway.
But while I frequently take public transportation and support transit, it's not always the best alternative. On a busy winter day it can take half an hour or longer to get to the village from Spring Creek, on an overloaded bus that often leaves people behind along the way, swearing and kicking out the bus shelter windows. It's also hard for me to get home as there's no southbound highway stop at Spring Creek.
The fact that Whistler has one of the busiest bus services in the province may be a feather in the muni's cap, but it's also a pain in the average rider's ass. Busy buses stop more and move slower, while the lack of seats often leaves you standing awkwardly with skis, groceries and a case of beer wedged between your feet while the bus lurches from stop to stop.
For people with small children, for people making quick errands, for seniors, for people with heavy loads, for people who plan to make more than one stop (e.g. village, then Nesters, then Meadow Park), the bus is sometimes a poor option. It works, but it's hardly ideal.
I can say with complete honesty that I will personally spend less time and money in the village as a result of pay parking. My apologies to local businesses, but I'm on a budget already and spending $4 to spend two hours in the village a few times a week seems unreasonably steep on top of all my growing cost-of-living expenses.
I understand that the RMOW needs to raise funds to cover its own growing costs, and that there are good environmental reasons for getting people out of their vehicles, but without a few carrots this just feels like a beating we don't deserve.